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S.C. Department of Corrections adds security enhancements at facilities

New security improvements have been added to Lee Correctional Institution, where seven inmates died last April.

LEE COUNTY, S.C. — Last April, seven inmates died and 22 others were injured at Lee Correctional Institution. Since then, the S.C. Department of Corrections (SCDC) has made several security improvements, which it showed us on a recent tour of the facility.

Related: 7 Inmates Killed, 17 Injured Over 'Real Money, Real Territory' at South Carolina Prison 

The first thing we noticed when visiting the prison was the tall netting surrounding the prison. At this time last year, Lee Correctional had only a 12-foot fence. The netting, which spans 50 feet over the fence, is designed to help prevent contraband from making its way inside the prison.

SCDC director Bryan Stirling says they’ve added other security enhancements as well.

“You saw scanners, full-body scanners, like you would see at the airport when you come in,” said Stirling. “We’ve got drone detection technology," he added. "We know that drones will try to fly over the netting to drop contraband. So, if that happens, we’ll be alerted to that.”

Stirling says they have added three newer model cell phone detectors to prevent them from being inside the facility. They’ve also added a new system to jam cell phone signals and filter what’s going in and out of the prison, according to Stirling.

"The biggest thing we could do for security and for the safety of the staff that works here is to jam cell phones,” explained Stirling. “Cell phone markets in prisons show the cost has gone up significantly. So, that tells me that we’re not seeing and we’re not finding as many cell phones. But, it’s a constant battle.”

The Department of Corrections says they found 7,240 cell phones and accessories in 2016. In 2017, they found 6,318. In 2018, the department says they found 4,695.

While the department is still working on getting the number of cell phones and accessories found so far in 2019, they tell us it’s significantly lower at this point in the year than it has been in the past.

Officials say crews are currently working to install a new kind of lock system in the prison cells. "It's going to cost about $5-6 million to swap out the old system for the new system across the state," Stirling said. "It used to be air driven, now it’s going to be electromagnetic.” 

At times, facilities go on lockdown, depending on certain situations and safety. News 19 has received a number of phone calls from inmates, who say they’re not receiving meals during lockdowns, which sometimes extend over a long period of time. 

We asked Stirling about SCDC's lockdown protocol and if inmates continue to receive meals while on lockdown.

“While we try to get them off lockdown as quickly as we can, we deliver food and try to give showers and things of that nature during lockdowns," Stirling said. "But, ultimately, we would like for them to be not on lockdown. That’s why we’re rolling out this new system.”

The Department of Corrections is looking to legislators to help get funding for some of the security enhancements and protocols they would like to have in their facilities.

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